Friday, August 11, 2017

Strategy for Publishing Short Fiction

I didn't write much short fiction before I attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop last summer (which I cannot recommend enough). I took Nancy Zafris' short fiction class after attending her novel workshop the previous summer. She said the short fiction class would help me with line-level things that would be beneficial to my novel-writing. She was right (she always is).

For the first assignment that was given before the workshop, she asked us to write a 300-word story based on a picture of a gel character smashed onto the sidewalk. It was the kid of gel creature that my kids get at fairs or from tickets at Dave and Busters. They end up on my ceiling, and the red ones leave a stain behind - my dining room table was forever marked with a red starfish.

My response to Nancy's request for us to write a 300-word story was that this isn't a thing. That is the length of a cover letter. It is three paragraphs. Stories cannot be 300 words long. I was proven wrong.

That week, I learned how to write tiny stories and how to be incredibly concise in service to a limited word count.

The week-long workshop was generative - we were given a new prompt every day and struggled to write a new story every afternoon (until 1:00 a.m. for me most nights). 

In the end, I completed two stories that I loved and had a few that were kind of so-so that I have since abandoned. I left Kenyon sorely wishing I could completely rewrite my one story that had already been accepted for publication, "Hostess of the Dead," which is forever in print as is in Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II.

As soon as I got home, I used one of the more complicated prompts to write a story for a local contest. I won some (relatively) good money for it and later received Honorable Mention when I entered that same story in Glimmer Train's March/April 2017 Very Short Fiction contest.

I wrote another story this April that was recently published at Four Ties Lit Review. It's 1200 words, which has become the sweet spot for me with short fiction. You can read it here if you like:

"Creamed Corn and Ninja Stars" at Four Ties Lit Review

What I lacked last summer when the conference was over (and quickly figured out) was a strategy to get the stories published. That's where Nancy and Geeta Kothari helped. They said to put myself on a submission schedule. I should submit two times a week (and it's okay if it is the same story that I submit in the same week). I believe they said to avoid contests, but I think I've heard that from professors also.

If you submit twice a week for a year, you will have submitted about 100 times. Chances are, the stories will be published. This has been true for me and others from that workshop that followed the same strategy. The lovely part is that I have had four stories published in a year and now completely accept the idea that rejection is part of the job. (I honestly did not submit 100 - I got to about 50 including academic papers - and withdrew many of the submissions after the stories were accepted.)

The bottom line is that if we aren't writing, we have nothing to submit. If we aren't submitting, we aren't doing our jobs.

Do you have any tips for finding journals to submit to for short fiction (many journals seem to be closed in the summer) or strategies for publishing short fiction?

Tonja